MID-MICHIGAN (WNEM) – Loneliness is the latest public health epidemic, and one local expert spoke about potential causes.
About half of adults in the U.S. say they’ve experienced loneliness according to a report by the Surgeon General.
“I think May is sort of a reset with our mental health, to take care of our mental health just like we do for our physical health,” said Barb Smith, the Executive Director of the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time of year Smith said is great for evaluating your feelings.
“During this month of May, we would encourage people to take the time to reach out and invite somebody to dinner; whether it’s in your home or to another location. Just check in on people,” Smith said.
Because loneliness is at an all-time high. Widespread loneliness in the U.S. poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily, costing the health industry billions of dollars annually, the U.S. Surgeon General said on Tuesday, May 2 as he declared it the latest public health epidemic.
“The distinction I want to make first between being alone and being lonely. Part of life is being alone. So, loneliness adds in an emotional component. So, the emotional component of loneliness is it somehow makes us feel unloved, or perhaps unwanted, or that we’re not connected,” said Karen Gallenger, the owner of the Wellness Institute of Michigan.
The pandemic was the start of people connecting less as the world was forced into isolation. Another key factor is the increase in social media use. Gallenger said it is important that we watch for signs of loneliness in ourselves and others.
“Loneliness is one symptom, and it can be quite uncomfortable,” Gallenger said. “But we do need to understand that it can be serious, and we should watch for that and listen to our friends or ourselves if we’re feeling very uncomfortable and reach out for help when it gets to that point. Or sometimes we need to learn and take out lessons from that experience of feeling lonely and say you know what I just don’t have enough interaction I’m going to do some things to try to address that. So, it doesn’t get any bigger or any more uncomfortable.”
Anyone struggling with loneliness is encouraged to call the crisis lifeline at 988.